In the late part of the 19th century, short stories written by female authors shared certain similarities with reference to the topics they addressed. Thus, it is possible to compare literary elements in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” when determining similarities and differences in these works. Although settings, characters, and themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” are similar, points of view are different, and it is necessary to examine how these elements contribute to stories’ messages.
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The first literary element to compare in the discussed short stories is a setting. In Gilman’s work, a setting of a bedroom with yellow wallpapers plays a critical role as the main female character spends all day long in this room. Describing the wallpaper color, the woman notes that it is “repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman 528). Furthermore, the woman expressively states in her journal: “I should hate it myself,” accentuating her attitude to this wallpaper (Gilman 528). This surrounding will make her almost crazy as she will not have opportunities to leave the room, and the woman will focus on each minor detail of the walls around her. If the bedroom in Gilman’s work is perceived by the female character as her yellow jail, in “The Story of an Hour,” the setting of Mrs. Mallard’s room is her comfort and usual place. Thus, “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chopin 524). The description of bedrooms in these two stories seems to accentuate the limited space set for women in family and society.
Female characters placed by Gilman and Chopin in the setting of their bedrooms are also similar in their description as being ill and suffering from their husbands’ oppression. Gilman’s character is treated like a person who has nervous depression, and there are no opportunities for her to live freely, without being limited by the walls of the room. The female narrator states: “John does not know how much I really suffer” (Gilman 529). She hopes that she will be able to write in the future, and “it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me” (Gilman 529). However, the reader knows that the woman’s husband is against her writing. The character depicted by Chopin also suffers from living with her husband as she unexpectedly feels joy when she learns he is dead. Chopin describes, “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her” (524). From this perspective, the depiction of characters in these stories contributes to developing the theme of a women’s role in the family of the 19th century when a female cannot feel freedom with her husband.
Although the characters in the stories have many similar features associated with their position in the family and their attitudes to their status, points of view used by the authors are different. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the first point of view is used, and the character states: “Personally, I disagree with their ideas,” referring to her husband and brother’s visions regarding her impossibility to work (Gilman 528). The reader can understand what a woman feels when being oppressed by “careful and loving” men (Gilman 529). In Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” the third point of view is applied, which allows for representing irony in the described story. The character’s feelings and emotions related to her awareness of personal freedom are described in detail with the help of the third point of view. For example, “she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin 525). This approach helps Chopin to explain the background of Mrs. Mallard’s emotions. Through these different techniques, both authors help the reader focus on the inner world of women and their anxiety associated with their rights and position in society.
The analysis of the two short stories allows for identifying the key theme covered in them: the personal freedom of women in the late part of the 19th century. In Gilman’s work, the female character’s world becomes restricted to the walls of her room because of her husband’s “treatment.” Thus, her husband is “loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman 529). Moreover, a woman notes: “I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day” (Gilman 529). Chopin’s character seems to suffer from similar restrictions because having “a heart trouble, great care was taken” of her (523). In both cases, husbands seem to demonstrate their support and care in relation to their wives. However, the real life of these women is similar to living in a birdcage because they cannot feel free in their house and outside.
Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” have similarities associated with the authors’ approaches to using settings and characters to present their theme of female freedom in society. This theme is the major one in the discussed works, and it is closely related to the problem of the role of women in 19th-century society. Still, in spite of many similarities in these short stories, there are also differences in using literary elements. Thus, the authors referred to opposite points of view in order to discuss their themes, but their messages still seem to be alike. As a result, it is possible to conclude that there are many comparable features in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” that need to be taken into account when analyzing these works.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 12th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 523-525.
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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 12th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 526-536.